By Uche Nworah
Thursday, the 20th of June 2019 was quite a remarkable day. It was a day that many who follow Sports Development In Anambra State will nod in agreement that truly, ‘Ugo anyi jelu mba ana ta go’. Our eagle that soared away to foreign lands has truly returned.
We had all gathered at the Anambra Governor’s Lodge Amawbia, venue of the grand reception the state government was organising for Anambra contingent to the 19th National Sports Festival which held in Abuja in 2018.
The Chief Tony Oli-led Anambra State Sports Development Commission has long planned this reception but the strict schedule of His Excellency, Chief Willie Obiano, Governor of Anambra State meant that the reception had to be shifted a couple of times.
The Commission had invited Chief Mrs Mary Onyali-Omagbemi (MFR) as a guest to the event, to speak to the athletes and share some of her professional experience with them. The Mbaukwu, Awka South LGA born 5-time Olympian, Olympic bronze medalist, African sprint Champion, mother of 2 married to a Delta State man heeded the call and invitation as a true Onye Anambra, the same way she did when the Commission invited her to Team Anambra’s camp to support the team during the National Sports festival.
Perhaps by sheer coincidence, hardwork of the athletes and support of the state government through the Anambra State Sports Development Commission, Team Anambra’s performance at the festival turned out to be their best ever since they started participating in the festival. They ranked 16th in the medals table and returned home with 5 gold medals, 11 silver and 13 bronze medals, 29 medals in total.
Team Anambra was also recognised by the organisers as the most organised. No wonder in her speech to the athletes, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi expressed surprise and delight at the same time at the ‘packaging’ of Team Anambra at the festival, in branded yellow and black track suits signifying the state’s colours. She said she felt very proud and had never seen Team Anambra that confident and organised in her many years of being associated with the National Sports Festival.
Mary-Onyali-Omagbemi encouraged the athletes and shared her life story with them, how professionalism, passion and hardwork propelled her to the top including earning her athletic scholarship to study in the United States of America. Most importantly, she charged the athletes to get an education as that is what will continue to sustain them long after they have retired from the tracks.
Her speech was greeted with a thunderous ovation from all present including the legendary Chief Emmanuel Okala (MON), former Enugu Rangers and Green Eagles goalkeeper.
When it was the turn of His Excellency, Chief Willie Obiano, Governor of Anambra State to speak to the audience, no one in the audience could have guessed what he was going to say. He began by thanking Team Anambra for doing the state proud at the festival and encouraged them to work harder to improve the medals haul during the next festival and in other competitions where they will be representing Anambra State. He promised to provide them with all the resources they require to make them succeed including equipping local stadia and other sports facilities in the state. He announced cash sums as rewards for the team broken down in categories.
Governor Obiano then announced the appointment of Chief Mary Onyali-Omagbemi (MFR) as Anambra State Sports Ambassador, this was to the delight and amazement of all present. This honour though long overdue is quite merited and befitting because this great daughter of Anambra has long been acknowledged and recognised all over the world except in her home state of Anambra.
This may be the reason why perhaps many Ndi Anambra do not know that she is from Anambra State. There has also not been any prior attempt by past governments in the state to appreciate, recognize and honour her. This honour done to her obviously will spur both present and future Anambra sports men and women towards sacrificing for the state and winning more laurels for Anambra at both national and international competitions, knowing that their people are behind them, and will in due time give them their earned recognition.
Delighted Onyali-Omagbemi while speaking afterwards said she was surprised by the Governor’s action. She appreciated the Governor for the honour and promised to dedicate her time, experience and resources towards making Anambra state great in sports. She said she will use her sports Ambassador role to network and attract other successful Anambra sports men and women living all over the world to support sports development in the state.
Praise should go to Governor Willie Obiano for the courage and vision to give honour to whom it is due and for all the support he has been giving to the newly created Anambra State Sports Development Commission. In so short a time, the Commission led by Chief Tony Oli has repositioned sports in Anambra State. Sports men and women in the state now have a new sense of direction and purpose. They now have people that understand their challenges to talk to. This was not the case previously.
Amongst other good things they have done for sports development in the state, Anambra State Sports Development Commission introduced the monthly ‘Anambra Walk 4 Life’ fitness programme aimed at encouraging Ndi Anambra to live active lifestyles. The Commission recently partnered with Fidelity Bank and others to host the 2019 Anambra Academicals Football Championships which was contested by primary and secondary schools in the state in both the Under 13 and Under 17 categories. According to Chief Oli, “the Academicals is aimed at catching them young. We are proud that from this year’s Championships, 5 of the players were scouted and invited to Nigeria’s national youth team camps”.
The Commission also organised the Security Football Challenge for security agencies in Anambra state and is planning to host Anambra State Sports Festival In November 2019. This festival not taken place in the state in a long while. The Commission hopes that with the support of the state government and partnership with brands and corporate bodies, it can effectively and successfully re-position sports in Anambra state.
Chief Tony Oli said that already they have begun preparations and are targeting the 20th National Sports Festival to be hosted by Edo State in 2020 to win more laurels and bring honour to Anambra State.